Sanjeeva Suvarna, maverick of an artist


Yakshagana has retained its lustre even against the strong and pervasive presence of the Internet and electronic media with its countless number of channels beaming throughout the day, engaging the minds of the rural and urban population.

The art form is able to attract the art lovers, as it blends the three main elements, namely the aangika, vaachika and the aahaarya in ideal proportions in the performances. It has evolved over a period of several centuries by absorbing new traits and by discarding the outdated ones, to remain relevant in the phase of changing perceptions of art.

Born in 1955, Sri Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna is an artiste of exceptional talent. He picked up his basic lessons in yakshagana from Bhagavatha Gundibylu Narayana Shetty, Metkal Krishnaiah Shetty and Margoli Govindaseregar. He joined the yakshagana training centre in Udupi and studied the various aspects of the art form in depth for three years, from 1971 to 74. He joined the professional troupes of Saaligrama, Hiriyadka and Goligaradi and was groomed as a performing artiste. Later on, he joined the Yaksharanga of Dr Shivarama Karanth in 1982. He was appointed as a tutor in 1984 and rose to become the principal of the centre in 2006.

The style of dance peculiar to yakshagana can neither be branded as purely classical, nor can it be categorised as purely folk. Suvarna has spent a lot of time  studying the yakshagana dance style in its historic perspective and has proved himself an expert in experimenting with the dance forms. 

The noteworthy feature of his experiments is that they are in the direction of nourishing the aesthetics of yakshagana. Solo yakshagana performance of Panchavati, Vaalivadhe and Ekalavya episodes was the beginning. He trained his students to perform in the traditional lighting of oil lampsticks known as dhondi. He noticed that several preliminary yakshagana skits known as purvaranga such as Baalagopala, Peetika Stree and Kodangi were fading out of the stage. He revived them by effecting some changes conceptually and was applauded by the art lovers for his effort. 

He also introduced some novelty in the make up of negative characters with a different combination of colour shades. He presented the yakshagana episodes Shabarimoksha, Angulimala and Kamsavadhe in dance ballet form. In 1983, he presented yakshagana episodes in Sanskrit and Marathi languages. He led a group of NSD students to perform the episode Chithrapata Ramayana of Hosthota Manjunatha  Bhagavatha in Hindi in Delhi, and also in China. 

Renowned theatre personality Sri B V Karanth spotted the immensely talented Suvarna and invited him to choreograph some dance sequences for his English play Macbeth. In 2002, Survarna flew to New York to direct the stage show Bhagavadgeethe along with Ellen Stuart. He trained the adivasi students in yakshagana in Australia in 1998 at the Food Festival organised there. He stayed in London to teach yakshagana to school children in 42 schools. 

Apart from yakshagana, Suvarna has trained himself in kodiyattam, bharathanatyam and yoga. He has performed yakshagana in more than 30 countries. He was awarded the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 2010. 

Yakshadegula, an amateur yakshagana troupe in the City, has planned to honour this energetic and tireless yakshagana artiste today, at the open air theatre behind Ravindra Kalakshetra, Bangalore in the presence of several dignitaries. SHANKARANARAYAN S

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